Perno took the long way home

ATHENS – David Perno has learned many things in his five seasons as Georgia's baseball coach. Patience isn't one of them. He got all that he needed before he was ever hired. "Yeah, I would say so," he said. "Patience was forced upon me."

David Perno, 38, became Georgia's coach in July of 2001 after a search he remembers taking "about seven, eight weeks, I guess." It only took a little more than four, but Perno can be forgiven for thinking it was twice as long.

A quick, if it's possible, recap of what happened before the Bulldogs chose one of their own to replace Ron Polk: Then-athletic director Vince Dooley called Miami's Jim Morris, who never let Dooley even ask about the job before turning him down. Dooley then offered the job to Tulane's Rick Jones, was turned down, and then to Baylor's Steve Smith, getting another no. He then targeted East Carolina's Keith LeClair, who Dooley said this week would have been offered the job. However, LeClair learned shortly before his interview that he had Lou Gehrig's disease and removed himself from consideration. (LeClair retired from ECU in 2002 due to the disease.)

After LeClair removed his name, the Bulldogs made a call to Nebraska's Dave Van Horn and then formed a search committee that interviewed Minnesota's John Anderson, Winthrop's Joe Hudak, Stetson's Pete Dunn, and, oh yeah, Perno.

Why did it take Dooley so much time and so many interviews and so many rejections before he hired a man who grew up at the hip of Dooley's son Derrick. Perno and Derrick Dooley were teammates on Clarke Central's 1976 state championship football team and remain close friends.

"The concerns I had were first of all his age, although he reminded me in the interview, in a diplomatic way, that he was three or four years older than I was when I became the football coach and Georgia," Dooley said, "and also, because of his relationship with Derrick, I wanted to make sure I approached this thing professionally and that that was not a factor in the decision."

Having long since surpassed expectations, Perno has the Bulldogs on the verge of their second trip to the College World Series in his five years. Georgia, the NCAA's No. 7 seed, faces South Carolina in a best-of-three Super Regional beginning with Game 1 today at Foley Field at 11 a.m. The winner advances to the College World Series.

"It was a very unique search in that we were dealing with a lot of different people and going to and fro," said Damon Evans, now Georgia's athletic director and then Dooley's top assistant. "It worked out for the best. Hiring David Perno ended up being the best thing for the University of Georgia."

Perno, who is 181-123 at Georgia, hasn't changed much since he played fullback for Clarke Central, Dooley said.

"He was just a dirty-faced kid running around like all dirty-faced competitive kids," Dooley said. "He was highly competitive at a young age."

That competitiveness was only stoked by the way he got the job.

"When I finally got the job, there weren't a lot of expectations," Perno said.

He changed that quickly with a style he has a tough time describing.

"I'm a player's manager, I guess," he said. "I want to be a player's manager. I want them to be able to come to me, to make sure everybody knows where they stand. The communication lines are always open."

Perno is the "father" of the team, catcher Jason Jacobs said.

"He gets inside you," senior outfielder Bobby Felmy said. "I can walk into the dugout, and he can say, ‘What's wrong, what's going on today?' He's like my dad away from home. I really love that guy."

Perno's tightness with his club has allowed him to become a master motivator. In 2004, the Bulldogs were trailing Clemson in the elimination game of the Athens Regional when Perno was ejected for arguing balls and strikes. After the ejection, he threw a bucket of baseballs from the dugout onto the field, and the Bulldogs rallied for an extra-inning win.

This year, with his team on the verge of missing the SEC Tournament, Perno gave an impassioned locker room speech before his team's game against archrival Georgia Tech on April 26. The Bulldogs are 21-4 since.

"I think that's a sign of how close he is to this ball club," Jacobs said. "That stuff lights us up. We rally around him."

Perno received a substantial raise after the team's 2004 College World Series appearance. He now makes $133,00 annually, and Evans is unwilling to say if another CWS trip will mean another boost for Perno.

"At the appropriate time, I'll sit down and talk to David," Evans said. "I will say this, David has done a very, very good job and we're extremely proud of him and excited about what he's doing with our baseball program."

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